Jan 31 2012 --- Nutrition labels are widespread in Europe, but consumers lack the attention and motivation to use them. This was the main outcome reported in the FLABEL (Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life) final conference in November 2011. Now, the final results of this three-and-a-half-year project will be presented in a webinar on 31 January 2012 by FLABEL Scientific Advisor, Professor Klaus G. Grunert.
Nutrition labels are a potentially useful tool for enabling consumers to make healthier choices about food, but scientific insights into how these labels are used in real-life shopping situations are limited. The FLABEL project found that consumers can understand the information presented in nutrition labels, and use it to make healthful choices. When given information on key nutrients (fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt) and energy for a variety of products and asked to rank the foods according to healthfulness, the majority of consumers were able to do this correctly.
A major result of the FLABEL research is that lack of motivation and attention are significant barriers when it comes to the effect of nutrition labelling on consumer choice. Professor Grunert explains that “consumers need to be motivated to engage with nutrition information – for instance, by having a health goal – in order to pay attention to nutrition labels”.
Lack of attention similarly lessens the impact of nutrition labels on the healthfulness of food choices. In a mock grocery store experiment, the eye movements of shoppers were tracked as they chose foods for their shopping baskets. The data showed that average attention to nutrition labels was between just 25 and 100 milliseconds – too brief a period for the information to be processed.
Motivation can improve consumers’ attention to nutrition information by encouraging them to look longer at nutrition labels. However, the most promising option for increasing consumers’ attention to, and use of, nutrition labels, is to provide information on key nutrients and energy on the front of the pack in a consistent way. “Complementing this information with a health logo can also increase attention to, and use of, the information, especially when the consumer is under time pressure”, says Grunert. “The use of colour-coding can increase attention and use in certain situations, although the effects are not strong.”
Consumers in the FLABEL project said they prefer and would like to use more complex labels that provide complete information. The data also suggest that liking depends on consumers’ previous exposure, or familiarity, with the label.
The results of the project show that the presence of nutrition information on food labels in Europe is very high. In an investigation of over 37,000 products across five product categories in the EU 27 plus Turkey, the majority (85%) of food products had nutrition information on the back of the pack and nearly half (48%) had nutrition information on the front of the pack. The five product categories were sweet biscuits, breakfast cereals, chilled pre-packed ready meals, carbonated soft drinks, and yoghurts.
The most widespread labelling scheme for the back of the pack was the nutrition table, found on 84% of products, while the Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) label and nutrition claims were the most widespread front-of-pack schemes, both present on a quarter of all products.
This feature is provided by NutritionInsight's sister website, PackagingInsights.
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